Although I am a more dedicated fan of modern poetry, Christina Rossetti (along with William Shakespeare) is where I diverge from this dedication. Virginia Woolf in “I Am Christina Rossetti” wrote, “Yours was a complex song. When you struck your harp many strings sounded together… A firm hand pruned your lines; a sharp ear tested their music. Nothing soft, otiose, irrelevant cumbered your pages. In a word, you were an artist.” (I had to include that because it is poetry in itself as much as an ode to a poet.)
Rossetti’s two most famous poems are “Goblin Market” and “Remember” – it is the second of these poems I am going to showcase here, not just because it’s a sonnet, whereas the former is sixteen pages long. “Remember” is also one of two poems I can remember in its entirety from memory (no pun intended – on either point). And it is perfect: bittersweet, words that are the silence the poem talks about, with a slight lift at the end but not too much of a lift because, as those suffering the loss of a loved one will know, attempts to be raised from the depths of grief are usually unwelcome if they are more than momentary.
Many of Rossetti’s poems focus on the necessary duality of life and death and she was unfairly tagged as morbid instead of being recognised for her unbelievable insight. After her death, she was also considered a “pitiable thing: a repressed Victorian spinster whose leaking libido attracted knowing winks from Posterity”. Yikes!
Even if that’s true (and I highly doubt it is), poetry can be appreciated without having to appreciate the poet and Christina Rossetti is worth appreciating.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.